The latest dot-com boom is a gold rush for some and an apocalypse for others. Car exhaust is killing the planet, but riding your bike in traffic can be a more immediate terror. You don't know which is worse – your insurance bill or the test results at the doctor's office.
Face it: San Francisco has issues, and so do you.
And yet – you live in a legendary city of art, innovation, and world-changing social movements. This town is full of organizations dedicated to confronting, overturning, undermining, or otherwise transforming the status quo.
So take an issue, any issue, and chances are there's someone in San Francisco working on it. Here's a cheat sheet to help you connect up and start processing your (and your city’s) pain.
Resources for renters abound at the San Francisco Rent Board, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Eviction Defense Collaborative. There are also legal service groups for specific communities, including roommates (the Housing Rights Committee of SF), gay and HIV-positive folks (the AIDS Housing Alliance), Spanish speakers, and elders and disabled people (Legal Assistance for the Elderly).
You can also take on the whole housing system with the direct action group Eviction Free San Francisco or even team up with your pals to buy a place of your own. The San Francisco Community Land Trust is dedicated to helping low- and mid-income folks secure permanent, affordable housing through community land ownership.
San Francisco is home to several dozen free and low-income clinics serving the general public as well as specific communities. Healthy SF is a breakthrough service, though problematic if you happen to get sick or injured outside of San Francisco.
Start by keeping your ride in good repair at the Bike Kitchen, which charges a low monthly fee for access to classes and repair shop paraphernalia. Scale up to street level with the SF Bicycle Coalition, which advocates for bike lanes, provides safety classes, and builds productive relationships with City Hall. A monthly ride home from work with Critical Mass can be a powerful grassroots statement – and also, when conducted with good riding etiquette, a breezy, convivial delight. The California Bicycle Coalition tackles state-level policy issues, helping make space for bikes on Caltrain and lobbying for a law requiring drivers to give cyclists three feet of clearance.
The SF art community is not only tenacious, but thriving, thanks to your support. After getting evicted from its 16th and Valencia digs, Adobe Books – as much a local arts salon as a bookstore – has reconstituted on 24th Street above Folsom Street. The Clarion Alley mural crew remains not just productive, but political as fuck. South of Market, the sprawling SOMArts warehouse offers a spectacular collage of exhibits, performances, and participatory activities each month, and networks with a panoply of local artists, collectives, and organizations. You can also showcase your own works by registering with San Francisco citywide Open Studios program.
Ed Lee's City Hall is a place of smiling handshakes, good public behavior, and megabucks building projects. Maybe you need to reconnect with your inner Emma Goldman at Bound Together books, San Francisco's anarchist collective bookstore on Haight at Masonic. Bolerium Books in the Mission has first editions, posters, and out-of-print materials documenting social movements. You can plug into contemporary progressive and radical politics, culture, and art at Modern Times Bookstore, which also dodged the gentrification bullet on Valencia Street by moving over to 2919 24th Street – event space included.
San Francisco neighborhoods have an evolving history that you can explore via FoundSF. The site offers a critical people’s history resource with thousands of historic photos and essays, many of the latter first-person accounts. The San Francisco Preservation Society lists a wide variety of organizations working to preserve and influence this diverse architectural and cultural heritage. You can also wade into the world of feisty neighborhood politicking through the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. Go deeper still with the Ohlone Profiles Project, a nonprofit effort to create a new cultural home in the city for the Native American victims of invasive eviction in San Francisco.
Planet Drum Foundation organizes bioregional education programs and promotes watershed restorations to ensure O.G.s of the local ecosystem survive invasive grasses, oppressive eucalypts (from Australia!), and a preponderance of pavement. They also partner with groups such as Nature in the City and Literacy for Environmental Justice – who run the amazing EcoCenter over at Heron's Head Park below Hunters Point – to help communities connect the dots between their own health and well-being and that of their immediate ecological context.
Sustainability begins at home. Now there's a worthy issue at a time of accelerating, oft-oblivious change.